I attended the Skip Caray Memorial at Turner Field on Tuesday morning. I went because I wanted to honor Skip and have a shared experience of grief with fellow Braves fans. And I went because I wanted to see what a memorial service for a broadcasting icon at a Major League park would be like. Here’s what it was like for me.
- It was very strange walking up to the stadium from the Green lot. There were only tens of people milling around when I arrived at 9:30am. Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah was blaring (I’m sure I’ve never heard that played at the stadium before) and the place had a very somber feel. The energy was low, low, low.
- That recent picture of Skip that was seemingly in every online article about his death (him wearing a light blue golf shirt with the TBS logo) appeared on all the screens in the place. From the big screen on the fan plaza to all the small monitors around the stadium to the jumbotron on the field – there was Skip.
- We all filled in the seats around home plate. I sat a few rows behind the Sun Trust section a little toward the first base side. There was a sign posted on the back row of the Sun Trust seats, “Reserved for Family and Team Personnel.”
- Moments before the ceremony was to begin, the Caray family came out of the main Sun Trust tunnel. Chip looked absolutely ravaged. Too thin and clearly in desperate need of a day that was not heart-wrenchingly sad. Seeing Chip in that state it struck me that in the middle of all the media coverage and all the tributes and all the superstar pallbearers was a family struggling mightily with the death of a loved one. I felt like a sleazy voyeur. And then I saw Joe and Pete and Smoltz and thought, “let’s get this thing started!”
- The highlight of all the speakers for me was Chip. He was heartfelt and achingly genuine in his gratitude for all the letters and well wishes his family had received. It had echoes of Skip speaking about the fan outpouring when his father died. And, he trotted out the best story of the day. It was about Skip teaching him to drive a stick shift in a church parking lot with a drink between his legs. It ended with Chip doing an uncanny impression of his dad asking, “son, why are you spilling my drink on my penis?” Very funny.
- Besides Smoltz, who spoke, I saw only one other current player in attendance sitting in the reserved section: Jeff Francoeur. I’m not bringing this up to disparage the other players. I just think it’s interesting. Not sure what it means. Maybe he simply knew that Bobby planned to sit him for the first game of the Cubs series and he wanted to continue to honor Skip.
In true baseball fashion, we all burst into applause many times throughout the event and someone actually brought a sign and held it up at the end of the memorial. It announced where the fan was from and concluded with a “So Long Skip.” Aside from Chip’s impression, the sign was my favorite part of the morning.